Thursday, September 2, 2010

Catholic High Schools and the Parish, Part Four: This Just In: An Unscientific, Anonymous, Intriguing Survey

In response to my blog postings this week, a friend of mine, who teaches junior-year religion class at an upscale, suburban Catholic high school in the southern U.S., conducted an unscientific, anonymous poll on Tuesday.  Here are the intriguing results:

1. What grade are you in and have you been to a Catholic school before?

Freshmen (never been to a Catholic school before this year) 0.0% 0
Freshman (I have been to a Catholic school before this year) 0.0% 0
Sophomore (never been to a Catholic school before this year) 3.0% 3
Sophomore (I have been to a Catholic school before this year) 1.0% 1
Junior (never been to a Catholic school before this year) 7.0% 7
Junior (I have been to a Catholic school before this year) 76.0% 76
Senior (never been to a Catholic school before this year) 0.0% 0
Senior (I have been to a Catholic school before this year) 2% 2

2. What do think about going to a Catholic high school compared to a public or another private school?

I love it! I couldn't imagine going to a school that wasn't Catholic! 22.0% 20
It's nice, but I wish it were a little less private/college prep and a little more Catholic 18.0% 18
It's nice, but I wish it was a little less Catholic and a little more private/college prep. 49.0% 49
I would rather be in a public school! I'm forced to be here! 11% 11

3. How would you rate your faith? Which one best applies to you?

Jesus is my rock and my all! 39.0% 39
I think Jesus is a good source for morals, but not much more. 9.0% 9
I think Jesus is someone to talk and pray to in hard times, but not much more. 16.0% 16
I think Jesus is God, but I don't really know what that has to do with me now. 7.0% 7
I believe in God, I'm just not sure Christianity has it completely right. 18.0% 18
I think Christianity has some good stuff to offer our culture, but I don't believe Jesus is God or anything like that. 8.0% 8
I don't really believe in God, and don't agree with much of anything the Church says, but hey, everybody has a right to free speech. 3.0% 3
The world would be better off without Christianity altogether. 0% 0

4. What do you think makes something someone does right or wrong?

Nothing is really right or wrong. Those are just labels judgmental people put on things to make themselves feel better. 1.0% 1
That is something that is WAY too complicated for me to judge. 3.0% 3
I think it just depends on somebody's intentions - are they trying to do something wrong or right? 23.0% 23
I think it depends on what they are actually doing, what their intentions are, and the circumstances under which they do it. 61.0% 61
I think it depends on what their intentions are and the circumstances under which they do it. 12% 12

5. Do you frequent the Sacraments?

I am not Catholic. 37.0% 37
I am Catholic, but I never go to Mass or confession unless I am forced to do so. 5.0%
I am Catholic, but I rarely go to Sunday Mass or confession. 12.0% 12
I am Catholic, and I go to Sunday Mass not every week, but a couple times a month. 18.0% 18
I am Catholic and I go to Mass every week and confession every couple months. 26.0% 26
I am Catholic and I go to Mass every week and confession every couple weeks. 2% 2

6. Where do you feel your moral beliefs lie when it comes to your understanding of Catholic teaching on issues of sexual morality?

From what I understand, I probably couldn't DISAGREE more. 9.0% 9
Catholics have a couple good points, but I really don't think they are very practical for me in today's age. 27.0% 27
I think I am in line with most of the major stuff, but I have some small disagreements. 37.0% 37
From what I understand, I pretty much agree with everything the Church teaches about this. 27% 27

7. Where do you feel your opinion on wealth and material things lies?

He who dies with the most toys wins. 0.0% 0
I have no problem with people being devoting their lives to their wealth or how they get their money, so long as they give some of it away to those in need. 27.0% 27
Nothing wrong with being rich or poor - spend your money however you want, just don't be a jerk about it. 50.0% 50
Nothing wrong with being rich, but it's probably more of a burden than a blessing. 21.0% 21
I personally would prefer to be poor rather than rich. 2% 2

8. What influence has attending a Catholic school had on your morals?

This is my first year at a Catholic school. 3.0% 3
Honestly, it has probably pushed me farther away from what the Church teaches about most things. 17.0% 17
It has had basically no influence at all. I'm the same person I came in as. 16.0% 16
Attending a Catholic school has made me a better person. but I could probably say the same thing about any high school, Catholic or not. 16.0% 16
Attending a Catholic school has made me a better person in general, but not much else. 26.0% 26
Attending a Catholic school has had a big influence on me. I would not be as strong in my faith and/or morals if I went somewhere else. 22.0% 22

9. What influence have the Theology teachers and campus ministers had on you?

To me, all of them demonstrate a solid, positive, knowledgeable, and committed witness of what it means to be Catholic in today's world. 54.0% 54
To me, some, but not all demonstrate a sold, positive, knowledgeable, and committed witness of what it means to be a Catholic in today's world. 43.0% 43
To me, none of them demonstrate a sold, positive, knowledgeable, and committed witness of what it means to be a Catholic in today's world. 3.0% 3

10. Which best describes your plans for after high school?

I am not Catholic. 37.0% 37
I am Catholic, and I have never thought of going to seminary for the priesthood or joining religious life as a brother or nun. 52.0% 52
I am Catholic, and I have thought of attending seminary for the priesthood or joining religious life as a brother or nun - but I don't plan on doing that. 8.0% 8
I am Catholic, and I have thought of attending seminary for the priesthood or joining religious life as a brother or nun - I am just waiting to see what God wants me to do! 3.0% 3
I am Catholic, and I have thought of attending seminary for the priesthood or joining religious life as a brother or nun - and I am planning on doing just that! 0.0% 0

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Catholic High Schools and the Parish, Part Two: The Meddling Pastor?

In the old days, the pastor took responsibility for the Catholic education of the children in his parish through eighth grade.  After that (unless the parish also had its own high school) it was up to the various orders of brothers and nuns and priests who ran the Catholic high schools to take over this task.  Some Catholic high schools were better than others, some had better reputations for academics or athletics or all-around prestige, but few parents argued over whether their children were better trained in Catholicism at one Catholic high school versus another.  Brother Joseph died and was replaced by Brother Jonathan, Sister Mary Margaret finally turned the reins over to Sister Margaret Mary, but pastors and parents never bothered to check the religion teachers' credentials for teaching religion, to see if Sister Margaret Mary was more faithful to the Church than Sister Mary Margaret.

This scenario no longer exists, and yet two residual tendencies endure.  First, many Catholic high schools continue to expect pastors and parents to place unquestioning trust in the fidelity of their religion teachers and campus ministry staff.  (Just ask a few straightforward questions and poke around a bit and see how welcoming and open are the responses you receive.)   Second, many pastors themselves consider it rather impertinent to meddle in the affairs of the nearby Catholic high school.  Mind your own business.  And busyness.  There is enough occupying their attention around the parish for pastors not to stick their noses into another Catholic institution's business.

All of this is perfectly reasonable ... but who is overseeing the sound transmission of the Catholic faith to the high school students who, whether they know it or not, or like it or not, are still members of the parish and still under the pastoral care of their parents and their pastors?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Catholic High Schools and the Parish, Part I: A Few Random Questions to Get the Discussion Going

This week, I will be examining some aspects of the relationship between a Catholic parish and the Catholic high schools where that parish's young people are enrolled.

First of all, is there a relationship?  As I begin my assignment this summer as Pastor of Transfiguration Parish in Oakdale, Minnesota, I am eager for a most active relationship with Hill-Murray School, Cretin-Derham Hall High School, Saint Agnes High School, and the other Catholic high schools attended by Transfiguration's youth. 

I am sure that these high schools are eager to have a positive relationship with our parish, and that they expect to foster an unambiguous Catholic vision, presented to us by the Church and, locally, by Archbishop Nienstedt, for a sound Catholic education and formation.

I do not intend to devote enormous resources to the Catholic education of our young parishioners through eighth grade, and then pay no attention to the religious results of their next stage of faith formation.

Here are some of the questions I will ask our local Catholic high schools:

1. What statistical evidence do you have that your graduates attend Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation more frequently than those young Catholics who attended non-Catholic high schools?

2. What statistical evidence do you have that your graduates observe the Catholic moral directives regarding sexual morality, temperance, and detachment from worldliness more faithfully than those who attend non-Catholic high schools?

3. Do your religion teachers and campus ministers have a proven track record of leading my young parishioners to a more knowledgeable, positive and committed identity as Catholics, including a mature obedience to the Pope, the Magisterium, and the countercultural teachings of the Church regarding materialism, marriage and family life.

4. Have your graduates developed habits of traditional Catholic spirituality, including devotion to the Blessed Mother and the Saints, to the Eucharist, to asceticism in their lifestyle choices.

5. How many of your graduates have entered the seminary or religious life in the past 20 years?

Ah, just a few random questions ... and tomorrow, we will consider why so few pastors ask such questions.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why I Preached What I Preached Last Evening

[Listen to "Fr. Baer's homily from 8/28/2010" at]

This Sunday's Gospel (Luke 14:1, 7-14) lends itself to a nagging homiletical treatment.  Indeed, if not careful, we may find ourselves reduced to preaching condescending, moralizing, even whining homilies week after week. Parishioners can take only so many "lettuce" homilies ("let us do this-and-that," "let us be nicer, humbler, kinder, gentler," "let us try harder, let us run faster, let us jump higher." 

The hearer becomes sick and tired of lettuce.

In my opening comments about the parishioner with the tomatoes, I attempted two things: First, I sought to acknowledge that I, like everyone else, tend to consider the worth of each member of the parish according to what they can do for me, even if it is as simple as providing me with fresh produce from their garden.  Second, I wanted to highlight the fact that this tendency to give attention only to those who might do some good for me is not a habit that occurs only in the profound  moments of life, but is likely happening over and over again in my day-to-day affairs.

My concluding challenge to the parishioners, to choose to "waste" a few minutes of time this weekend with someone who, at least ostensibly, could not do something good for them in return, was an attempt to avoid the soft, moralizing, "now then, don't you feel vaguely worse about yourself now that you've listened to this" finale that homily topics like this often conclude with.

If we are going to ask our listeners to change their way of life as disciples of Jesus Christ, in light of His Gospel, let's avoid smothering them with the condescending, tut-tutting, furrowed-brow treatment.

Instead, give them a concrete way to respond.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Augustine and the Avuncular Role in a Youth's Conversion

Who converted Saint Augustine to the Catholic Faith? 

Well, God did, of course  But who else was an instrument of divine intervention in that process?  Certainly Augustine' mother, Saint Monica ranks high.  Yet, after he wandered away from his mother's instructions and tearful prayers, seemingly forever, there were others whom God would place in his path.

The word "avuncular" means to act like an uncle.  Acting like an uncle means having a close personal relationship with a young person, a relationship of trust, of counsel, of influence.  Many cultures throughout history have recognized that, when young people reach a certain age, they become resistant to the advice and direction of their parents, not so much because their parents are giving bad advice or guiding them in the wrong direction, but because, well, they're parents!  At that point, wise mothers and fathers have sought to bring others into their children's lives, whether it be uncles, aunts, godparents, "compadres," "madrinas," and so on.  Among Augustine's "compadres" was quite a godly father indeed: Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who baptized him.

Yesterday afternoon I attended a summer scrimmage match between the University of Saint Thomas football team, whom I am honored to serve as Chaplain, and the team from Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota.  (Hmm, Saint Thomas Aquinas versus Martin Luther ... now there's an idea for a future blog posting.)  I was in the stands next to a Lutheran woman whose son is a newly arriving freshman with the Tommies.  I introduced myself and, in the course of the conversation, mentioned to her that I would be leading a weekly Bible Study with some members of the the team on Sunday nights this fall.  She smiled, shook her head and noted that, unfortunately, she didn't think that her son would be interested.  I responded by telling her that this didn't surprise me.  Nevertheless, I have seen how the new players are often surprised to learn that some of their biggest, best, and "baddest" senior teammates are also very serious about their Christian faith, and not at all ashamed to let others know about it.  The mom's eyes brightened and she commented, "Actually, that really would make a difference for my son."

If you are a parent who despairs of your recalcitrant son or daughter ever returning to the Faith, don't give up.  Pray, and keep on praying!  And don't forget to pray for the Lord to bring someone into their lives who will speak the truth to them.  Yes, the same, Catholic truth that you've spoken to them time after time throughout their childhood, but truth that, in this timely moment, might pierce their hearts   --  hearts that are "restless until they rest in Thee"  --  spoken by a godly friend, a Catholic teammate, a teacher, a pastor, an "uncle" in the truest sense of the word.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Confession and the Tears of Saint Monica

When I was studying the Sacrament of Penance in seminary, no one told me that many a Confession would be followed by tears. 

I am not referring here to tears of contrition.  Rather, they are the tears of mothers and fathers and grandparents, grieving for their family members who no longer practice the Faith.  The Absolution and Dismissal having been concluded, I am ready for the next Penitent, but then come those words, "Father, this is not about Confession, but there is something else that I am just so broken up about, I don't know what to do." 

No two families are exactly alike.  Nevertheless, many Catholics today have children, grandchildren, in-laws who were raised in the Faith, perhaps with years of Catholic schooling, and yet are no longer practicing the Faith, no longer raising their children in the Church.

And so we weep.

Two words of counsel.  First, talk to your priest about it.  Again, no two families are alike, and there is no one-size-fits-all way to bring loved ones back to the Church, but many pastors have gained tested wisdom over the years about how to help the lost sheep find their way back to the fold.

Second, talk to Saint Monica about it.  Cry out to her, even as she cried out to the Lord to save her wayward son, Augustine.  Through her intercession, Christ will bring you wisdom.  Christ will bring you hope.  Christ will extend His grace to your lost family members to bring them back to Himself.

Don't stop praying, and a few tears won't hurt, either!